Is Digital Sensationalizing Sensitive Content for Eyeballs?5 min read

Some of the originals – films and web series made me wonder if digital is repeating the mistake that the advertising industry once did. Using sex and women for viewership. There were times when people actually started objecting to the presence of women in commercials of men’s underwear or deodorants where women were used as trophies. There are many controversial print ads where women were portrayed in a demeaning and disturbing way. One such ad was of Weyenberg Massagic shoes which was featured in the Playboy magazine in the seventies:

Weyenberg Massagic

Even though decades have passed, we are still in the process of changing the way women are being portrayed in the advertising world, and even in the films. Unfortunately, we now have a new medium that seems to be repeating history. Women working in the film industry have still been fighting for women-centric roles as they are often used for item numbers or as a woman in the hero’s life. Thankfully, this is changing too, slowly but surely. 

When both the industries were positively changing, this new medium has started using women and sex for viewership. I am not against the sex scenes, violence, or the usage of strong language used in the web series or original films. I am against the misuse of the liberty taken to SENSATIONALIZE SENSITIVE TOPICS, the forcible addition of sexual abuse or abusive language when and where it is absolutely not required. For example, profanity was justified in Jamtara. If the characters would have been well-spoken people, they could never be real and convincing. But when a normal, frustrated guy in Pushpavalli says, ‘F**k’ ten times in a five-word sentence or when swear words like B**** are used in series like ‘Never Kiss Your Best Friend’ during a father-son argument, then it starts annoying you.   

The first time I thought that I need to speak about this was when I watched Guilty. There was nothing wrong with the subject they chose. It was about consent, molestation, and the way society looks at sexual assault. This sounds good, right? We need more content on sexual assault as it helps society become aware. There are chances that films and web series or a discussion on such topics would finally change the way people look at the victims. But the way the makers handled such a sensitive topic – it was terrifying. I don’t know if this would be the right thing to say but to an extent, I thought that sexual assault is being glamorized. It was used in a filmy way, to make a masala movie. If commercial film-makers cannot handle such topics sensibly, they should leave them alone. As I said, no film should sensationalize sensitive topics.

Then I felt the pressing need to write this write-up after watching the Netflix web series, SHE. The portrayal of the female protagonist, Bhumika Pardeshi, is worrisome, disturbing, and distressing. A female constable is asked to pose as a prostitute to help the department get the information from a drug dealer and then eventually get hold of the drug kingpin. All of it is done with a very casual attitude with no safety of the woman given any priority. The ACP himself is alright with the drug dealer making her uncomfortable during the interrogation with verbal sexual abuse. The ACP is also fine with the drug dealer calling her on her cellphone in the late hours. When she complaints, he simply brushes it off. At one point, it feels like the department is forcing the constable to become a real prostitute without complaining just to save her job. One of the important criteria for her selection, for one of the most dangerous operations, is her 36-24-36 figure. What message are you sending out to the society where women are already living in constant fear of either being raped, attacked by acid, or becoming a victim of some kind of violence? 

On one hand, we have series like SHE, that has gone a bit too far in showing sex scenes, so far that the line between a web series and porn has blurred to the extent where it can hardly be seen. From putting a hand in between the protagonist’s legs to calling vagina, a scorpio, and then pressing her boobs in one of the scenes was unnecessary. 

Then there is Gandi Baat where the sole focus is on sexual activities. I don’t watch Gandi Baat but once I did go through a few episodes as I wanted to write a review for The Digital Popcorn. One episode focussed on the protagonist having small boobs and all her insecurities revolved around the size of her breasts. SHE, along with her sister and mother was afraid that no man would marry her. All thanks to the size of her small breasts and hence her mother stuff things inside her blouse so that her boobs look bigger in size. And this is done for validation from the potential groom. There is no harm in saying that Gandi Baat delivers soft porn which means that women are either naked or semi-naked (even when dressed) all the time. 

This brings me to one of the most important questions that whether digital content needs censorship. And as I have already mentioned, it is not about sex scenes, but sensationalizing or misusing sensitive topics for viewership, ‘not ok being the new ok’, the portrayal of women and mishandling of women-related issues like sexual assault, domestic violence, marital rape, and more. This being the beginning, this is the time when we need to take the required precautionary measures so that we don’t have to start from scratch.

Let me know your views in the comments section below.

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